36 Senate and House Members: Keep LGBT Immigrants Out of Dangerous Detention Centers
Today, a group of 25 U.S. House members and 11 U.S. Senators sent a letter calling on U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to use the full extent of his discretion to keep vulnerable LGBT immigrants out of immigration detention centers. “LGBT individuals are among the most vulnerable in ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] custody, and our policies must reflect the unique circumstances this population faces and protect them from mistreatment,” reads the joint letter, which was led by Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), along with Reps. Mike Honda (D-CA) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ).
NCTE and a broad coalition of local, state, and national advocates have been pressing ICE, which falls under Johnson’s authority, to take action for years. A group of House members sent a similar letter last summer, and NCTE has also participated in briefings on this issue on Capitol Hill.
Many LGBT immigrants are torture and rape survivors seeking asylum from anti-LGBT persecution in Central America and elsewhere. ICE has said for years that it is addressing the needs of these immigrants by making detention centers safer, but these steps have been consistently criticized as inadequate. Last year, ICE announced it would protect transgender immigrants by warehousing them in a few designated centers across the country, which fails to address the abuse that transgender detainees have consistently reported from ICE officers.
The Congressional letter calls attention to a 2015 report that found that ICE officers regularly ignored their own risk assessments and detained LGBT immigrants who could have been released pending a court date. It asks ICE to provide answers on how it is preventing this from happening in the future, and how it will implement its current policies to ensure that trans detainees are not transferred away from family or attorneys against their will.
Federal studies have shown for years that LGBT people are at extremely high risk as targets of sexual abuse and other forms of violence in detention centers. More than a third of trans people behind bars are sexually abused each year.
It boils down to this: ICE detention centers are fundamentally and unnecessarily traumatic, and categorically unsafe for LGBT immigrants. Keeping some of the people most endangered by detention out of it would be a sensible first step toward dramatically shrinking the $2 billion ICE detention system, as many, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the New York Times have called for.